After a mid-season break, the UCI's cyclo-cross World Cup continues on Saturday with its third round in Koksijde, Belgium. Younger riders will tackle the dunes in the morning while the elite women and men will race in the afternoon.
The course through the dunes near the North Sea has been tweaked with a view toward next year's cyclo-cross world championships. Former world champion Mario de Clercq checked out the course and told cyclo-cross.info that is was a beautiful, but very tough course for explosive riders with good running skills.
With the weather forecast predicts below-freezing temperatures and possible snow or hail showers to spice up the racing drama, this year's edition might turn out to be a great warm-up for next year's world championships.
The women's race will provide a clash between US national champion Katie Compton (Planet Bike) and her European rivals. Compton showed great form in the US racing scene and heads back overseas to check out the new course.
Last year's winner Marianne Vos will not be present in Koksijde this year. Daphny Van den Brand, who finished second in the sprint with Vos last year, was more than half a minute ahead of Compton. As a result, the Dutch champion is top favorite for the win in Koksijde. Van den Brand shares the lead in the World Cup with her compatriot Sanne van Paassen (Brainwash). British champion Helen Wyman (Kona) and Hanka Kupfernagel are other riders to look out for in Koksijde.
In the men's race, world champion Zdenek Stybar (Telenet-Fidea) will try to repeat last year's victory and focus on defending his lead in the World Cup rather than on his sore knee or recent transfer speculations. While Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet) is out of contention for the overall win, he surely will be the men to watch in Koksijde, being in good form and a past triple winner in the dunes.
Stybar's only remaining challengers in the World Cup are Kevin Pauwels (Telenet-Fidea) and Niels Albert (BCKP-Powerplus). Both riders showed they're in good shape, but they never featured on the podium previously in Koksijde. Only time will tell if their form is good enough on a course designed for sand specialists.
US national champion Tim Johnson (Canondale), who flew over to Belgium last week to check out the new course, will also get a front row start.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for reports on all of the racing action in the Belgian dunes.